With the advent of spring, a proliferation of pastel exhibition prospectuses begins to flood our mailboxes (see a sampling in the photo). As the popularity of pastel continues to explode, so too does the number of pastel societies devoted to the advancement of the medium. Much of the popularity of pastel can be attributed to the hard work done by these organizations that devote untold hours to hosting exhibitions. Nearly every state has a least one pastel society and many boast a few. A simple web search for pastel societies will likely give you the name of one close to your home. Most societies offer annual national/international exhibits receiving entries from all across the nation. These exhibits boast some of the best works being produced in the medium. Many also offer membership shows that afford almost everyone the ability to be shown. The back pages of The Pastel Journal, which contain listings on forthcoming exhibits, is a good source of information.
Entering pastel exhibitions and competitions allows us to see how our work compares to others working in our chosen field. Painting is a solitary endeavor. We work in relative isolation most of the time. Without some form of feedback we can easily become complacent and overcritical of our attempts. As the number of pastelists continues to multiply, the odds of inclusion into some of the bigger exhibits narrows. Many venues are limited to as few as 75 paintings and are receiving upwards of 400 entries. Someone is going to be excluded. This shouldn’t discourage us from entering, but instead make us work harder. Competing against our pastel heroes provides us with the impetus to strive for more technical and aesthetic quality. As nice as it is to win an award, being accepted into some of these shows is reward in itself. Set your best work aside for these exhibits and budget for the expenses involved in entry. Whenever possible, attend the opening reception whether you made the cut or not. Meet your fellow artists and put a face to works you admire.
Pastel is a big tent medium filled with varied subject matter and innovative techniques. These exhibits are tribal: we are not alone in our passion for the dry medium. They also expose the general public to the beauty of the medium, advancing the acceptance of pastel as a serious form of artistic expression. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to all those individuals who tirelessly volunteer their time on behalf of all of us that work in the dry medium. Pastel is where it is today due to your efforts. Thank you!